Sun N Fun Shooting

Yesterday kicked off Sun N Fun International Fly-in & Expo in Lakeland, Fl which happens to be one of the largest gatherings in the airshow circuit. Each Spring is marked by the event and while each year thousands of spectators attend the event, I personally never have. After all of these years working with aircraft, Sun N Fun is still one of those venues I haven’t been to. But that doesn’t mean I can’t pass on some useful trivia from other events.

One of the biggest things I hear from other photographers is how do you get that shot with so many other people around? Well often times I try and include the people because they are as much apart of the event as the planes are. But to get those shots that aren’t as busy you have to spend a bit of time watching the flow of people around the aircraft. There are times throughout the day that are busier and slower and finding the slower ones will help with those shots. Another useful tool is quite honestly post processing. If you really want that clean static shot then going a step further in your post processing will help you get it.

Now whether it’s Sun N Fun or any other aviation event always remember to be looking for those shots that are different from everyone else’s. Go at different times, try different angles, use a different approach to make something unique happen. Why? Because planes travel a lot and are seen at a lot of places throughout the years. To make your images stand above the rest you got think a little outside of the box.

So Many Planes So Hard To Do Air To Air

The two times that I have come to EAA Airventure, Oshkosh I have been fortunate enough to do an air to air photo mission. You would think with the surplus amount of planes that come to the Airshow that it would be easy to do more but in reality it is very difficult to do. First off finding the subject plane is easy. In reality it’s not hard to start talking with a pilot, make a friend, and then want to go flying. Finding a photo platform isn’t that hard either. Since so many people fly in to camp under the wings of their planes, finding the right GA plane like a Bonanza isn’t too hard. The challenges start after that.

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The first major one is getting into the sky. The air space around Oshkosh is very busy with traffic making it difficult to do a scheduled early morning or late evening shoot. Then there is the background. Most of the area is surrounded by houses or towns so getting a clean background without spending lots of time in post is also tough. Now none of this means that it isn’t possible. Every year many articles are published with images taken at Oshkosh. My best advice for doing an air to air at Oshkosh is talk to the pilots. They know more about the ins and outs of what is happening then anyone else. Also study the maps. While most go over the lake that isn’t far from Osh, really know they area nearby so you can plan out your trip thoroughly. Also talk to the tower beforehand. Make sure they know what you are planning so that you can get the go ahead. At the end of the day bear in mind that it’s just a photograph. If you don’t get it the world will keep spinning.

Printing is Your Friend

Like any other business networking is a big part of photography and making friends is just as important as keeping relationships alive. I was taught early on that giving prints is a great way to keep those relationships going because everyone has something meaningful to them but they might not always be able to see or photograph it themselves. Prints are a great way for everyone to remember the good times.

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The first time I went to EAA Airventure, Oshkosh was in 2011. I had never been there before but I got to see another part of the aviation community and met a lot of nice people there. The Bergen’s, the owners of this L5, were among those people I met and worked with on an assignment. We quickly became fast friends and to this day every time I talk with them they mention the print of their L5 hanging on there wall.

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My good friend Alex is constantly coming up with new adventures, especially when it comes to fishing. Every time yields new funny stories and some photographs. However, each time he goes back to this one image because it is his favorite hanging on his wall. Nowadays it’s getting even more affordable to do printing especially with the release of Epson’s new Surecolor series like the P400. It seems like such a simple thing but in this business the more you give the more you get and in the end that’s how the best stories are created.

The Dream of Air to Air

This is the one area that has the most questions and the biggest draw. Air to Air photography is truly a thrill ride as there is nothing quite like being up in one aircraft and photographing another one. The work that goes into this kind of photography is more of a ballet then just a simple photo shoot. It is certainly not for everyone and most definitely has to be planned out beforehand! The key element to a successful air to air shoot is SAFETY!

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No matter what the subject is, whether it’s small or big, everything starts on the ground with a shot list and step by step procedure. Before the briefing takes place you have to know the limitations and the flying characteristics of both the subject plane and the photo platform. This information is essential! More important then that you have to know the pilots you are working with. All of this goes into the safety factor. In reality the photos are just photos, but so much can happen on an air to air flight that you have to be aware of everything that is going on.

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As far as the photography goes a couple of tips that might be useful. First make sure you have everything strapped to you and won’t get knocked out. It’s very important that nothing leaves the plane. Next, shooting with a longer lens is a very useful way to keep the planes further apart while still getting a tight shot. Creating more space between the planes just adds more safety when flying in formation. The last element is one that doesn’t always get attention to is the background. Planes live in cities but a city background doesn’t always work. Knowing the history of the plane you are working with can help by being able to choose a more dramatic and cleaner background. Little details like these are essential when telling the story. The element that still makes the biggest impact is light. Whether the plane is front lit, back lit or side lit tells a different story so it’s important to consider that when you are flying.

The Stinson L-5 Sentinel

There are thousands of aircraft that have been built over the years in order to perform certain tasks. Some of the planes have become famous by them men and women that have flown them. Others remain famous only amongst the true diehard aviation crowd. The Stinson L-5 Sentinel is one of those aircraft that served a very important role during WWII but like so many others is often overlooked due to it’s lack of being either a bomber or a fighter. It’s no surprise that the bomber boys and fighter jockeys got so much more attention. Publicity at the time was a crucial factor in keeping the American spirit alive and willing to participate in the fight. That often came at the expense of fantastic stories of bravery and courage amongst those fighting. This little plane has just such a story and it’s one I never get tired of.

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The L-5 Sentinel was a liaison aircraft stationed in multiple theaters. It served not only as a liaison but also as a trainer, a spotter, a transporter and even as a ground attacker in rare instances. The L-5 came after a long line of other observation based platforms were needed by the US Army Air Corps. The L-1 Vigilant for example, as seen above, was built in 1938 in competition for the US Air Corps observation platform request to compete with the German Fieseler Storch which was shown at the Cleveland Air Races. While the L-1 and L-5 were both built by Stinson there were radical differences in fuselage design, engine capabilities and cargo capacity. One of the few similarities is that both planes were designed solely during WWII for military purposes and neither had civilian counterparts. Currently only five L-1’s exist today with the only flight worthy example being at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, FL

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After Stinson became a subsidiary of Vultee the original HW-75 model, the predecessor of the L-5, was tested as an observation platform. The plane was upgraded from its 75 horsepower engine to an 80 horsepower four cylinder design in 1940 and was redesignated the Model 105 “Voyager.” Six examples were built for the military under the designation YO-54 but failed to meet the necessary performance standards required by the military at that time. The plane was completely redesigned for more rigorous testing. A prototype, model V-76, was built and passed the requirements. It was accepted in December 1942, as the O-62, with a pilot and an observer in tandem seating, which was considered ideal for the observation platform. In 1943 the Liaison category was created and the O-62 was again redesignated the L-5. The planes primary purpose was to courier communications, artillery spotting and medical evacuation. With the ability to take off in short distances, cargo capacity of 250lbs and able to hold a third person if necessary, the L-5 quickly got a new affectionate nickname of the “Flying Jeep.” Between December of 1942 and September 1945, 3,590 were built with the improved six cylinder 190 horsepower Lycoming O-435 engine. It was the second most built observation platform of the war behind the Piper L-4 Cub.

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The L-5 became a standard work horse between the front line guys and the behind the scene operators. L-5s would bring medical supplies to forward areas and then return with wounded men. It would observe forward positions and radio them back to artillery positions or to the GI’s about to come under enemy fire. Generals and other high brass officials liked the plane as a transport between bases. The USAAF, US Marines and US Navy used the L-5 in the European, Pacific and Far East theaters in WWII. It was also used in Korea during the Korean War. The roles of this little plane seemed to be endless and thus also was the courage of the pilots who had to constantly fly them. These planes had no guns, had no advantage in a dogfight, they couldn’t fly at high altitude or at high speed. They were constantly under enemy ground fire. Needless to say while the L-5 had an important job it was not an easy job.

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In 2011 at EAA Airventure Oshkosh, WI, I had the great fortune of meeting Chris and Jerri Bergen, the owners of Lady Satan, a beautifully restored L-5 that had an amazing history behind it. At the time I was working for Warbird Digest and was covering a story on the plane without any real knowledge of it’s history. After initially finding the plane parked outside Warbird Alley behind the reenactors area, I spent much time talking with Chris and Jerry and learned the amazing story of the plane and the pilot. This particular plane was flown by a then 93 year old veteran named Tom Rozga. He flew Lady Satan during the invasion of the island of Iwo Jima as a forward observer. Not only did the plane receive fire but the patches can still be seen on the plane today. Chris and Jerri also have the original logbooks that show Tom’s signature along with the date and type of mission flown. Tom was at Oshkosh that year as an honored veteran on the panel. His whole family was there in attendance which prompted a photo shoot with everyone. There was 42 members of the immediate and extended family present for Tom. It was truly an impressive sight. This one little gem in the aviation world is merely a taste of the history that endures today. While not the fanciest, not the fastest, and certainly not the biggest; the importance of what this plane did and what Tom did is unbelievable.

Images Captured with Nikon D3, 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, 70-200 VRII, SB 900 Flash, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

A Favorite Amongst Shoots

A Favorite Amongst Shoots

One of my all time favorite shoots was this past Summer and it was with a great little aircraft. The L5 Sentinel which was used primarily as an observation platform mostly is a favorite amongst collectors. The whole L series in fact are just fun little aircraft. Rather low maintenance with a sturdy construction makes for a great time. I had the opportunity to work with the owners of this particular L5 at Oshkosh. This particular plane has a rather unique history to it having in WWII during the invasion of Iowa Jima.

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L5 Sentinel

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, TC-17e, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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